Greens preparing for government
"Well, in Aussie I see Labour has parted company with the Greens. That, to me, is an indictment of an expensive experiment that has failed."Featured comment
Two polls have now suggested Labour, the Greens and Hone Harawira will have the numbers to form the next government.
Last week, Roy Morgan had Labour on 34.5% and the Greens on 13.5%, a combined 48%. This week, Fairfax put Labour/Green on 47%.
While the most likely outcome remains Winston Peters again holding the balance of power, Labour/Green is tantalisingly close to getting there on its own.
The Greens’ far-left political positioning means they would have no brute political leverage over Labour in government.
Faced with grumbling Greens, all prime minister David Shearer would need to do is gently suggest they try their luck with National leader Judith Collins.
The Greens’ strategy, therefore, is to keep building their own vote, outperform Labour on new policy and arrive in government in sufficient numbers to demand the right to operate as near equals.
The Greens finally achieved double figures in 2011 from a strategy built around co-leader Russel Norman.
It was based on feedback that while voters largely liked the Greens’ environmental positioning, they didn’t trust them not to do wacky things on the economy.
Consequently, environmental alarmism was played down, the economy was played up, and Green spokesmen wore suits and ties as they talked about the balance of payments deficit. Supporting this was the party’s first-ever nationally coordinated volunteer management system, the so-called “Green Machine,” which saw hundreds of activists receive daily instructions from head office.
The Greens were the first to use Facebook effectively and, for the first time, the party’s notoriously unreliable supporters received messages reminding them to vote.
The effort won over 90,000 new voters and took the Greens to 11.1%.
Since the election, the strategy has been broadly maintained. With international efforts to achieve a meaningful climate change agreement having failed, the Greens have toned down their demands for further acts of environmental self-flagellation.
Instead, the focus has been on the alleged manufacturing crisis, monetary policy, housing and – intriguingly – promoting economic growth in the information and communication technologies (ICT) sector.
There have been stumbles, including Dr Norman’s call for the government to print money overshadowing his more mainstream proposal that the Reserve Bank first cut the Official Cash Rate.
But the Greens have been determined to lead the news cycle on the economic issues of the day and have successfully outperformed Labour in delivering the quick-reaction soundbite to radio and TV.
This year, the party wants to continue trying to build economic credibility, including with the business community.
Climate change will re-emerge as an issue as the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change releases its fifth assessment reports between now and the next election. But the Greens are unlikely to argue that New Zealand businesses should pay above the world carbon price, which reached a new low this week.
More significantly, party strategists believe the discussion-document and consultation process used for its ICT policy is a good model for engaging with business.
That process attracted serious feedback from the ICT sector and led to a reasonably well-received proposal for a second Trans-Tasman and Trans-Pacific internet cable system.
Ten further discussion-document exercises are planned for this year on a wide-range of policy issues.
The topics will be chosen based on what issues become hot politically through the year but the tone will be serious, focussing on long-term economic and job growth rather than populist quick wins like lower prices.
The thinking is that not only will this position the Greens as far more open, competent, outward-looking and future-focused than Labour, but Green Party thinking will be cemented as core coalition policy on a wide new range of issues.
Backing all this up will be an even more powerful Green Machine, with tens of thousands of new email addresses gathered during the asset-sales petition exercise.
The business community and the Greens will always be wary of one another but it is increasingly likely the two will have to work together through much of the rest of this decade, if not into the 2020s. For the sake of sane-ish economic policy through those years, it is to be hoped the Greens genuinely are prepared to listen to the people who create the nation’s wealth and that, for its part, the business community is also prepared to engage meaningfully.